Tubli Bay, home to a variety of rare marine species, is being threatened by illegal land reclamation.

As government officials and environmental activists in Bahrain keep stressing the need to preserve and develop natural resources, officials and witnesses confirm that illegal land reclamation at Tubli Bay continues uninterrupted.

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Residents and activists say trucks regularly dump sand and garbage in the waters of the bay at night.

The issue of the small bay, known as the home of shrimp breeding in the kingdom, has been raised by environmental advocates since 1993 when the first reclamation activities started.

Advocates say the illegal operations threaten the status of Tubli as a natural habitat for shrimp, fish and other species of marine life. The bay is also the preferred sanctuary of migratory birds.

The illegal activities usually involve the building of luxurious sea-front homes despite a government ban issued in 1995.

Pro-environment advocates say the size of Tubli Bay has been reduced to 11 square km from 25 square km a few years ago.

Several buildings have been built in those reclaimed areas.

The reclamation operations have increased "significantly" in recent months, confirmed Adel Al Marzouq, public relations officer at the Ministry of Municipalities and Agriculture.

"However, we have not changed our position with regard to exerting every possible effort to stop the uncivilised activities taking place at Tubli Bay," he said.

He said the minister had recently issued new orders to the executive bodies at the ministry to "monitor and stop" the illegal reclamation.

"We are very keen to protect the coasts and natural resources," he said.

The new orders came amid increasing demands by political and environmental groups to save the threatened bay. The issue also highlighted illegal activities at other similar bays.

The activities continue despite orders issued early last year by the Manama and Central Region Municipal Councils to stop reclaiming land in those areas, said Murtadha Bader, chairman of the Manama Council.

Witnesses said residents of the area regularly detain trucks dumping sand and garbage in the waters of the bay at night in preparation for levelling the ground.

"We are working hard to stop that. We also launched an awareness campaign last month in an effort to get the public to take part in the preservation of Tubli Bay, which is a public property that should not be exploited by anyone," said Bader.

The Parliament last month set up a committee to investigate the issue and prepare a report in six months.

Abbas Mahfoud, head of the Health and Environment Committee in the Central Region Municipal Council, says it might be too late.

"The increased activities at the bay aim to create a de-facto situation that cannot be reversed. Those behind the illegal operations may aim to create a new zone that is expected to be drawn following the issue of the parliamentary report," he said.

"What is going on in Tubli needs to be handled firmly by the government because there are so many personal interests involved in the issue," said Zakaria Khunji, head of public affairs at the state's General Authority for the Preservation of the Marine and Environment Resources.

"You cannot force those who have bought land or houses there to simply give up their properties. They have to be compensated," he said.

Al Wefaq Islamic Society, the main opposition group, also urged the government to consider Tubli Bay a national nature reserve.

"A specially designed law must be introduced to criminalise illegal reclamation," the group urged. It also called upon authorities to set up "a transparent" committee that would "reveal the real perpetrators" of the illegal actions and bring them to justice.

Rasha Al Ebrahim is a journalist based in Manama